Mycotoxins

Presence in food

Mycotoxins (mould toxins) can form in foods as a result of food cultivation and storage conditions. In warm, humid conditions certain types of mould can multiply in raw materials or convenience foods and produce toxins.

Mycotoxins can typically form in cereals, oilseeds, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apples or coffee beans. Toxins can form during cultivation and storage. Mycotoxins are chemically stable and survive heating and other processing of food.

The most commonly detected mycotoxins in food and the most harmful to human health are aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone and deoxynivalenol. In 2020, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) published a risk assessment of ochratoxin A in food.

Fusarium (red mould) toxins – deoxynivalenol, zearalenone, nivalenol as well as T-2 and HT-2 toxins may in particular be present in Finnish cereals. According to a study published by Evira in 2008, (in Finnish) the maximum tolerable daily intake of Fusarium toxins is not exceeded in Finland, not even for people who eat a lot of cereals when the impact of sorting and dehulling cereals on reducing the amount of mycotoxins is taken into account.

Exposure to mycotoxins can also occur through the consumption of plant-based food acting as a growth medium for mould as well as through the consumption of foods, such as milk, derived from animals that have eaten feed containing toxins.

Adverse health effects

Long-term exposure to mycotoxins can weaken the immune system and cause cancers. Adverse effects, particularly on the liver and kidneys, have been reported. Acute poisoning is also possible, particularly in children whose diet includes a relatively high amount of cereal.

Maximum levels in foods

EU legislation ((EC) No 1881/2006 as amended) sets maximum levels for aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, deoxynivalenol, zearalenone, fumonisins, T-2 and HT-2 toxins, citrinin as well as for ergot sclerotia and ergot alkaloids with regard to a number of raw materials and food categories that constitute a risk.

 

Read more about the topic at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mycotoxins

Page last updated 8/18/2020